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'India Should Be Wary': Newspapers Call for Guarded Optimism on Chinese Disengagement

Given that the Chinese had in the past agreed to disengagement plans and backtracked on them, editorials said India cannot drop its guard.

New Delhi: A day after defence minister Rajnath Singh announced in parliament that India and China have agreed to a disengagement plan in eastern Ladakh on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), editorials of leading newspapers described it as a positive development but called for caution on the Indian side, given that the Chinese had in the past “reneged” on its commitments.

Recalling the violent Galwan clash, which took place in June 2020 in the aftermath of a similar disengagement plan, the Indian Express in its editorial said “the mood should be one of sober and guarded optimism”.

Given the relationship between the neighbouring countries currently, the editorial has a word of caution for the Indian side. “Trust between the two sides is at such a low ebb that India cannot afford to drop its guard. The lesson from Doklam is that verification will be crucial to this process.”

Similarly, The Hindu in its editorial, referring to the existing mistrust, has said that the success of the disengagement plan will depend to a large extent on the implementation of the conceived plan “on the ground in letter and spirit”.

“The events of last year have left enormous distrust, which remains a hurdle and China’s actions on the ground have not always matched its commitments,” the editorial said, and described the development as “a promising start towards restoring peace in the border areas”.

Calling the disengagement plan as a “breakthrough” and applauding the Indian government for using various “instruments” to exert pressure on China, Hindustan Times in its edit has also sounded caution.

“At the same time, it is crucial that the government insist on the restoration of status quo ante. It also must monitor the extent of Chinese withdrawal, for remobilisation can’t be ruled out,” the Hindustan Times editorial reads.

Also read: ‘India, China to Remove Forward Deployments in Phased Manner’: Rajnath Singh

In its editorial, the Times of India expressed doubts if China would actually walk the talk on disengagement in eastern Ladakh.

“…Delhi needs to be extremely cautious here. Even if the current round of disengagement from friction points goes off well, we don’t know that Beijing will de-mobilise the 50,000 troops it has deployed across the LAC,” the editorial reads.

Outstanding issues

On the other hand, the editorials have also drawn attention to the fact that although there is no tense standoff in Depsang Plains, like Pangong Tso area, there are a number of points of friction between the two sides that predates the existing standoff in eastern Ladakh.

FILE PHOTO: Indian and Chinese soldiers jointly observe the New Year 2019 at Bumla along the Indo-China border in Arunachal Pradesh. Photo: PTI

The Hindustan Times editorial said, “India must maintain its position on all other friction points, including Depsang which is of strategic value. And it must retain some form of military leverage — remember, taking control of the heights on the southern banks changed the game — to force China to abide by the understanding.”

The Hindu too called for efforts to resolve issues pending in Depsang Plains. “In the Depsang plains, there is no stand-off situation or heavy deployment of troops, but a long-running dispute over the LAC and blocking of patrols that predates the current crisis and as yet remains unresolved.”

The Indian Express called upon the Indian government to resolve sticky points pending in Depsang Plains. “Though the [defence] minister did not specify the issues, the key to Chinese intentions lies in the Depsang Plains, where it has prevented the Indian Army from accessing a set of patrolling points.”

Similarly, The Times of India’s editorial has drawn attention to all outstanding issues between India and China, which could potentially flare up tensions in the future, and called for resolution of those issues.

“The fundamental issues remain: the LAC is undemarcated, India-China strategic rivalry is out in the open, Beijing’s support for Islamabad has never been stronger. Hence, Delhi must remain on guard and stick to the motto ‘distrust and verify’.”

In an attempt to understand as to what had prompted the Chinese to agree for a disengagement, The Times of India said, “There could be external factors at play here, such as the growing momentum of the Quad grouping or the Biden administration sticking to the previous Trump administration’s charges of China being guilty of human rights violations and bullying its neighbours.”

After 10 months of an intense standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), defence minister, Rajnath Singh, on Thursday in parliament said both sides had begun the process of disengagement in Pangong Tso area.

Stating that there have been nine rounds of talks between both sides before arriving at the contours of the disengagement plan, Singh said forward deployments on north and south banks of the lake will cease to exist “in a phased, coordinated, and verified manner”.

While describing the plan as a way forward to achieve status quo ante that existed prior to April 2020, when the hostilities began, Singh said senior commanders from both sides will meet soon, while the disengagement plan is underway, to iron out differences in other friction points on the border.